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WhatsApp: The new playground for luxury brands to engage consumers

NEW DELHI: Luxury and premium brands such as Cartier, Armani, Diesel and Corneliani have found a not so-exclusive platform to reach out to consumers in India: WhatsApp.

India's favourite instant messaging app — which many small and medium entrepreneurs use to keep in touch with their customers — is now being used by marketers of luxury jackets, shoes, watches and even candies to promote, sell, and offer aftersales services.

"Selling luxury is all about offering personalized services and platforms like WhatsApp enable that, which is why brands encourage their store managers to make an extensive use of it," said Yashovardhan Saboo, chief executive at Ethos, a chain of retail stores housing watch brands such as Rado, Cartier, Armani and Rolex.

Reliance Brands, which retails labels like Diesel, Kenneth Cole, Zegna and Brooks Brothers in the country; Nordic Kandie, a high-end marzipan chocolate store; Italian menswear brand Corneliani and multi-brand premium retail store Heel & Buckle are among marketers using WhatsApp to maintain one-on-one relationship with the rich and suave clients by sharing pictures, videos, brand films and other promotional material on a regular basis.

"The service helps us connect better with the clients not just in the metro cities where we have stores, but also 45 locations across India," said
Sumeet Yadav, business head of Reliance Brands. He said 'cash rich-time-poor' customers find it convenient to go through the latest stock and also blockbook the items to be home-delivered or to be picked up from stores at a later date at ease. "Conversion rate in case of customers using WhatsApp is as high as 80%."

Thea Tammeleht, founder and director of Nordic Kandie that sells candies in edible gold and silver in Delhi, said nearly seven out of 10 enquiries that come to them on WhatsApp convert into business. "We find this way of communicating easy for business as we are able to send price lists, images of products, preand post-shipping," she said. The company has a dedicated person to reply to WhatsApp messages from clients. It gets maximum queries on Sundays.

"WhatsApp is being used by brands to both generate leads as well as manage customer service at a more micro level," said Apeksha Harihar, editor of Social Samosa, a news portal focusing on Indian social media.

According to her, several brands have used instant messenger apps abroad. Examples include Absolute Vodka and Burberry Brit in China.

In India, earlier this year Sony DADC created three groups on WhatsApp and added 30 members to each group on a first-cum-first served basis and conducted a contest, Harihar said.

Not just brands, even customers use WhatsApp to take better decisions.

Prem Dewan, retail head of Italian menswear brand Corneliani, said most people walk in to the store, try a few pieces, and share the pictures with their friends or family before closing a deal. "Currently we engage with at least 15% of our top repeat clients via WhatsApp and it is growing very fast," he said.

Dewan, however, added, "Messages are sent out only after seeking permission from the clients. Else it can backfire." India is one of the fastest-growing markets for instant messaging applications. Of the 600 million WhatsApp users, 65 million are in India.

Dhiraj Bhatija, chief executive officer of Heel & Buckle, said many of his clients ask for prior information on WhatsApp even if they visit the stores. "A lot of our women customers want to stay updated on what has come into the stores on a weekly basis." According to a recent Business Insider study, 71% of women, compared to only 18% of men, 'like' or 'follow' a brand on the social media conversations.

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